A surprise finding was that the brain region known as the amygdala, which regulates emotional reactions, showed significant changes only to the sad faces presented to the children over the three years. This response could be linked to the emergence of adolescent depression, particularly in girls, according to the researchers.
"We know the incidence of depression goes up significantly in adolescence," said Dr. Monica Michell, attending psychiatrist and former chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "But why that should happen at that time, we don't know."
Michell cautioned, however, that in the study, the children's self-reporting could differ significantly from others' perceptions of their behavior.
"I don't know if that's the same as reports by parents in their environment," Michell said. "As a clinician, I would pay more attention to how they're able to process emotion and talk about it in a more nuanced way."
"I'm happy someone is doing this work, and it's fascinating work," she added. "But it's one study ... and it just adds to the body of knowledge out there."
Gallagher said the concept should be studied over an even longer period of time -- perhaps to early adulthood -- and should include equal numbers of boys and girls.
"Even when kids are 13, they're not so independent of their parents," Gallagher said. "They're still in the phase of life where parents still know a lot about where they are and their activities. It would be interesting to see ... when parents are less involved, where environmental influences override this brain maturity."
Pfeifer noted that research delving into the wiring of the human brain and its influence on behavior is becoming increasingly common.
"I do think there's an increased interest in this field, and people see neuroscience as
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